de la Vega was sitting in an ancient wooden swivel chair, working on revisions
to his doctoral thesis Methodism in America, when he heard the soft buzzing of
his cell phone. He picked up the phone, swiveling his chair around before he
spoke to look out the high tiny window in his cramped office at the far end of
the Culiacan Cathedral. “This is Father De La Vega.”
Lieutenant Flores of the federal police. We are trying to notify the family of
Diego Sanchez. He has you listed as the family contact.”
eyes stayed fixed on the fronds of the tall palm tree growing in the
cathedral’s backyard. “Yes, I am Diego’s brother-in-law. How can I help?”
inform you that your sister’s husband, Diego Sanchez, was arrested this morning
and is currently being held in custody in Culiacan prison.” The lieutenant
sounded subdued, deferential to the Catholic priest, sympathetic.
silent for several moments. “Oh my God, this is a shock. My sister was
kidnapped three days ago, on January 2. She and Diego have three young
children, and now this.” Father Teo sighed deeply and made the sign of the
the kidnapping. I am so sorry. It seems your family is suddenly confronting
great adversity. I can assure you that all the police agencies are working
diligently to find your sister.”
several deep breaths before responding. “Would it be possible for me to go see
Flores was silent a moment. “Yes, under the circumstances, I’m sure there must
be many arrangements to be made for the children. I will contact the prison and
get your visit authorized.”
up, suddenly feeling dazed; his jaw clenched as his eyes riveted on the small statue
of Jesus he kept on his desk. “I am on my way to the prison now.” He next
forced himself to call his brother, Eduardo, and their father, Alfonso. He
quickly concluded each call with “I’ll call you back as soon as I learn
quickly jogged down the hall and across the cathedral campus to his car.
Outside, he stood beside his car and gazed upward for several moments, praying
for his sister, Diego, and their children. Then he got into his battered Toyota
and headed to the prison.
in the visitors’ waiting room for thirty minutes before the guards escorting
Diego burst through the door on the prisoners’ side.
Diego ahead of them and roughly shoved him into a chair. One of them said, “Sit
down and shut up!” to Diego and waved a finger under Diego’s nose. Father Teo
moved quickly to the cubicle opposite Diego and sat on the hard plastic chair
in the narrow enclosure.
about my family.” Diego was somber and seemed to have physically shrunk since
the last time Teo had seen him only three days before.
state of casual good humor had been replaced with a pallid and tense facial
expression. His eyes were tearing and moved only indirectly in the direction of
Father Teo; he could not maintain eye contact for more than a moment. His eyes,
now dark and sunken, slowly roamed the brightly lit room: floor, walls,
ceiling, Father Teo.
contact with Tina’s kidnappers. We are doing everything we can to find her.
Eduardo and I are moving heaven and earth to find her.
her and are understandably upset. How are you?”
as hell. I’m scared out of my mind. I am so grateful to you and Eduardo.” Diego
dipped his head and nervously checked the position of the guards. “Please do
everything you can to get these charges dropped and get me out of here
are depressed. Anyone would be in these circumstances.
talking to lawyers right now. Your arrest has come as a complete shock to all
embarrassed and stunned by my arrest too, Teo. Please tell my mother and the
children that I love them, but I do not want them to come here. Seeing me in
this place will only make things worse for them. Have you learned anything
about the charges against me?”
chewed on his lip. He hesitated while a myriad of happy family memories flooded
his thinking: Diego and Tina’s wedding, the births of their three children, and
many family gatherings. “You are accused and charged with consorting with
narco-criminals by laundering their illegal earnings, aiding the cartel’s hit
men by providing them with shelter, engaging in a criminal conspiracy, and
accepting financial assistance from the Pacific cartel. I’m still in shock,
Diego. I don’t understand this. Is any of it true?”
in his seat and dropped his head to the Formica countertop of the little booth.
“Oh my god,” he said this loudly, and the nearest prisoners on Diego’s side of
the barrier turned in his direction. When he sat back up straight, his hands
clutched his heart. Tears rolled down his cheeks.